Friday, November 23, 2012

THE LADAKH CHRONICLES

Ladakh- A dream destination. It was planned and cancelled in 2010, planned again
in 2011 to be cancelled once again. And as always the best trips are those which
are planned at the spur of the moment without any plan. It finally happened this
August.

After getting reprimanded in the office one Friday, sitting with a beer in my
hand with two friends near a deserted lake at 3 in the morning, a friend says lets
go somewhere. "I’m not in a mood to go to office and want to go somewhere
desperately".  within few minutes it was decided we all are taking a week off from our
respective offices.

A rough itinerary was planned:

1: Delhi - Jammu(via Pathankot)
2: Jammu - Srinagar
3: Srinagar - Kargil(via Sonmarg, Zojila Pass and Drass)
4 : Kargil - Leh(via Zanskar)
5 : Leh sightseeing(permits)
6: Leh - Nubra Valley(Hunder via Khardung La)
7: Hunder - Pangong Tso
8: Pangong Tso - Leh
9: Magnetic Hill, Leh palace, Shanti Stupa
10: Leh - Tso Moriri
11: Tso Moriri - Sarchu
12: Sarchu - Manali(via Barlach La, Keylong, Rohtang Pass)
13: Manali and Kullu
14: Kullu - Delhi

Next day we decided we will get all the gear necessary for our bike ride for an
upcoming experience. With Internet it is difficult to expect surprises and get an
expression of an awe and there is exhausting detail about every possible thing and
place, so we decided it’s better to keep our knowledge to minimum and explore the
place realistically than virtually.

We started from Delhi at 5 in the morning, and kept taking some short breaks.
The first stop was in Karnal where he had our breakfast. The next big stop was
Hoshiyarpur for Lunch, typical Punjabi lunch. After riding 600 kms for 14 hrs we
reached Jammu. We took a room and ordered our dinner and retired for the day. It
was an ass breaking ride and gave us an idea of things to come.

Next day we were supposed to leave the hotel at 6 in morning but due to non-
availability of water we got late by 2 hours. So, we decided to delay the breakfast.
After some stoppages we reached the beautiful city of Srinagar after 8 hours of
riding and traversing more than 300 kms. It was short but comparatively difficult
ride as it was hills all the way.After reaching Srinagar we tried to explore the city a bit.
A walk around the Dal lake is a must along with a shikara.

 Day 3 marked the beginning on real test. Ride through what are called
as ‘Himalayas’ and the views were captivating. On this route there is heavy
presence of Army and large number of military trucks lead to severe jam at
Zojila Pass though we had a lot of fun at Sonmarg indulging in fun activities like
paragliding.

Similar routine was followed on days that followed and it was real fun and
adventure. Riding an average of 400-500 kms everyday and for 8-10 hours a day
was not easy. But the biggest problem was AMS(Acute Mountain Sickness). It’s a
kind of breathlessness, nausea which you experience when suddenly exposed to
high altitudes. It first struck us at Zojila Pass, it is a terrible experience and makes
you feel helpless.

A lot of people prefer to go through the Manali route but it is a lot more rugged
and difficult and you have to face severe AMS because of sudden exposure to high
altitudes getting exposed to high altitude terrains from the second day when you
are not acclimatized can be a spoiler. When we reached Leh, it was a sigh of relief
as the first frontier was captured, it was no less than a war as we had to cross
so many streams with freezing water and most of the times we didn’t know how
deep they run. The various pass we encountered were slug fest and the bike taking
a fall was no big deal. We encountered some riders who were stranded in middle
of nowhere because of mechanical failure in their vehicles. Landslides and trucks
falling of the cliffs seemed to be the most common sight.

After some extensive riding for 3 days we reached Leh the capital of Ladakh passing
through might hills, passes, crossing a number of streams, rivers, roads with mud,
black snow and sometimes riding on so called roads. But the ride to Ladakh is full of
picturesque views and serene valleys and raging rivers.

Ladakh: It’s a heaven on earth with unparalleled splendid beauty, diverse, distinct,
unlike any place of earth. Ladakh is encompassed by mountains in all directions

accompanied by grasslands, barren desert and countless streams. Ladakh remains
cut off from rest of the country for most part of the year. Ladakh is also known
as ‘little Tibet’ because of the cultural similarity which it owes to its proximity to
Tibet.

There is no shortage of natural wonders as well as other human made structures.
Here are a few must visit places in Ladakh:

Leh: Leh is the capital of Ladakh but sparsely populated. Leh has some famous
Monasteries and largely Buddhist population.

Shanti Stupa: The beautiful Shanti Stupa was opened by Dalai Lama. Shanti Stupa
is the most important attraction in Ladakh.

Khardung La: Khardung La is the highest motorable in the world. For every motorist
it’s an achievement to drive on this circuit.
Pangong Tso: Pangong Tso is the surreal blue water lake stretching from Spangmik
to China.

Nubra Valley:Scenic vistas, barren deserts, bactrian camels, lush green orchards,
Nubra valley has it all to awestruck you with its serenity and grandeur.

Magnetic Hill: 27 kms from Ladakh, Magnetic hill attracts a number of tourists for
anti nature phenomenon it exhibits.

Hemis National park: Hemis national park is the second largest biodiversity park in
South Asia. The national park is home to numerous species of mammals nearing
extinction. The park has more than 200 snow white leopards. Near 400 yr old
Hemis monastery is also located in this park.

Tso Moriri: Tso Moriri is another high altitude lake in Changthang, though less
famous than Pangong Tso, it is full of splendid beauty.

Zanskar: Zanskar is one of the most unexplored and isolated place in the country.
Zanskar is very famous among adventurous enthusiasts. Trekking, Rock climbing
and the white water rafting are very popular here. Quaint old monasteries, raging
water bodies, mighty Indus, free fluttering flags and no civilization in sight, this is
what describes Zanskar. It’s a place where you feel at peace with yourself.
There are many options in terms of places to eat. There are many restaurants,
cafes, road side stalls, variety of cuisines. But the most popular cuisine is Tibetan.
Tea is made from yak’s butter and Mo-mos and korma are a specialty here. Though
Indian cuisine is available but not at most places as ladakh is similar to Tibet and it

shows in its culture. In monasteries you can go and hear the amazing chants that
cast a spell on you. Or see the yak dance where men dressed as yaks sway to the
beats of music and the women try to control them. Ladakh’s food and culture is
completely different and it could be a bit of problem if you are a vegetarian.

The most unforgettable moment for us was when we heading to Tso Moriri and
we were about 70 Kms from Tso Moriri, my bike gave up. It won’t start, there was
no mechanic for another 70 Kms and by the time the bike got back in working
mode it was pitch dark and we had lost the way,perhaps the reason they advise
not to travel at night when in Ladakh. So, we were left with no option other than
camping in middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow clad mountains not knowing
if any wild beast will come and attack us, no food and it was cold, too cold to
camp. Temperature somewhere in -20 degrees and we didn’t have great camping
equipment. That was a night we didn’t sleep but we got to explore a completely
different world, people completely cut off from everything in the world. People
living in Changthang are called ‘Changpas’, they are a nomadic tribe living in the
harshest of conditions. During the night we chanced to meet one of the Changpas
who understood Hindi. He took us where he lived and helped us set a camp there.

Changpas migrate from one place to another with their livestock's, living the
nomadic life. The next day was spent with them, learning about these extremely
simple people, living far away from all the complicates of this monotonous world.
Changthang is like a vast plateau with huge grasslands enclosed by huge
Himalayas, it is like you have entered a vast cathedral of silence. But a day with
Changpas is not enough to understand what their lifestyle. Why they still live in the
most uninhabitable of conditions is difficult to understand? Maybe they want to live
in these conditions only. I would love to visit this place again and spend more time
with this tribe and experience their way of living. This little experience with the
Changpas was the most memorable part of this wonderful journey.

The 10 days I spent in this barren splendor, snow clad mountains, mighty passes,
ravaging rivers or in short the heavenly Ladakh are the most amazing days of
my life with each day imprinted in my mind as if it happened yesterday. The bike
ride to ladakh is a must. It’s a place to let go of your inhibitions and explore the
unexplored in this pristine, serene, extraordinary, primeval world.
It’s rightly said you do return from ladakh but your soul is left wandering in
beautiful passes of Ladakh which makes you to return to this place again and again.

Author Bio: Ashwin Sharma is an avid traveler working with Cheapoair . He
loves traveling and is a foodie. he loves to interact with people of different cultures
and love to explore the new places. he is currently working to promote low cost flights to India.


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